By Ted Siegel—Chef-Instructor, Culinary Arts

At least once every decade some culinary pundit or self-appointed expert on cuisine and gastronomy makes a grand pronouncement declaring the “death of French cuisine”. This has been an ongoing trend in culinary journalism since as far back as the late 19th century. Whether it was the fall of the classical grande cuisine of Carême, Escoffier and Du Bois or end of the nouvelle cuisine revolution that shook France after from the 1950s to the 1980s, the state of French cuisine has always been ripe for debate.

Fresh seafood at a French market

Fresh seafood at a French market

Yet there seemed to be a significant shift somewhere around 2003, when the New York Times ran a front page story in its Sunday Magazine declaring—once and for all—the death of French cuisine. The piece went on to anoint Spanish chef Ferran Adria as the “pope” of contemporary gastronomy (called molecular or modernist, depending on who you asked).

However, upon a recent trip to Paris, it was apparent that the death notices (as usual) are premature. The wild card in the whole discussion is the profound influence—encoded in the DNA of the French people—of the cuisine bourgeoise: the cooking of French housewives and grandmothers, rooted in the terroir of local ingredients and traditions. In the context of restaurants, this cuisine has transformed itself into a movement labeled bistronomie, a trend that snubs the grande luxe dining palaces with their fine china, sterling silver place settings, starched linens and snooty waiters, maitre’ds, and sommeliers (who act as if the customer is there to serve them, not the other way around). Here the cuisine of grandmère and maman rears its beautiful head—in simple preparations based on a market-driven cuisine with an emphasis on seasonality, solid culinary technique, unpretentious presentations and friendly, relaxed knowledgeable service.

Traditional French cuisine relies on products unique to the region's terroir.

Traditional French cuisine relies on products unique to the region’s terroir.

Like any so-called revolution, politics and economics are among the underlying forces that have dictated this change in French cuisine, gastronomy and food culture. With the volatility of the “euro” and the global economic crisis, it is now more cost-prohibitive than ever for a business owner to sustain luxury operations in the long-term. It has become economic suicide to maintain a brigade of forty to fifty chefs, cooks and other staff (in the back of the house alone), uphold a large inventory of grand cru wines, and support the various other elements of leasing or owning a space that would fit the traditional Michelin definition of three stars.

Lunchtime at a French cafe

Lunchtime at a French cafe

Complementing this transformation in the kitchen is a social and literary movement, one that has rallied in particular behind France’s modern response to the long-reigning Michelin Dining Guides. Founded in 2000 by Alexandre Cammas, Le Fooding springs from a curious mix of anti-corporate left wing politics and social libertarianism, and it poses a direct challenge to the moribund culture of Michelin and its dominance over French cuisine for more than 100 years. The first Le Fooding guidebook was published in 2006, and the movement has since jumped the Atlantic, holding annual events in New York City—incidentally, taking place this weekend in the Rockaways.

It’s particularly fitting that Le Fooding should also celebrate NYC’s dining culture, as many of the restaurants that my wife Cheryl and I visited in Paris would fit in very comfortably (thank you) in neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side, Williamsburg or Long Island City. Below are some of the best examples of this “new/old” cooking that we discovered—fusing la cuisine bourgeoise with chef-level consistency and innovation.

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Sea scallops poached in champagne with a nage of black truffles and melted leeks

L’ASSIETTE—Rue du Chateau in the 14th arr.

Chef/owner David Rathgeber’s cuisine is deeply rooted in culture of his homeland of the Landes region of Southwest France, but his technique was honed for ten years under the renowned Chef Alain Ducasse. On the night we dined at this restored 1930’s boucherie, we savored his house-cured country ham with homemade farm bread and beurre demi-sel, foie gras terrine with a conserve of figs, and rillettes of suckling pig and foie gras. There was warm, poached asparagus with an incredibly silky sauce mousseline; sea scallops poached in champagne with a nage of black truffles and melted leeks; stuffed calves head, sauce ravigote and what could only be described as the most ethereal sea salt crème caramel one could possibly taste.

CASA OLYMPE—Rue St. George’s in the 9th arr.

Olympe Versini is an icon among female chefs in Paris, receiving her first Michelin stars when she was only in her twenties. She is considered to be “the godmother” of this new trend in French dining, as when she opened Casa Olympe in 1993, she asked the Michelin inspectors to stay away and not review the restaurant. Her food is profoundly influenced by her Corsican ancestry and the Mediterranean basin.

If available, try her blood sausage croustillants on mesclun greens; warm salad of seared scallops, house-cured foie gras, avocados and mâche; daurade roasted on the bone with tomatoes, lemon, potatoes, herbs and olive oil; perfectly roasted squab with Asian spices and Thai red rice-coconut milk pilaf.

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Smoked pork belly, braised slowly and served with reduction of braising jus and a nicoise olive-potato purée

LE COMPTOIR DE RELAIS—Place d’Odeon in the 6th arr.

Chef Yves Camdeborde has been the leader and vanguard of bistronomie for the past 20 years in Paris. He worked for many years with his mentor Christian Constant at the Hotel de Crillon, where they elevated the cuisine of the Restaurant les Ambassadeurs to two Michelin stars. His extensive menu is available at lunch, but be forewarned—no reservations are accepted and the restaurant fills up by 12:30 pm. It is virtually impossible to get reservations at dinner, when the menu becomes a prix fixe of fifteen courses.

Dishes that I can highly suggest are the unusual warm terrine of boudin noir with a refreshing salad of celery root, apples and sucrine lettuce; salade gourmande of salt-cured foie gras, green beans, artichokes and potatoes; smoked pork belly, braised slowly and served with a reduction of the braising jus and a nicoise olive-potato purée; pan-fried stuffed pigs feet and a warm individual apple tarte with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel.

LES COCOTTES—Rue St. Dominique in the 7th arr.

Christian Constant, mentioned above, left the Hotel de Crillon years ago to establish his own restaurant group, which includes Les Cocottes. The restaurant is known for its casual counter seating, large menu of wines by the glass and hot menu items—all of which are served in deep cast iron cocottes produced in Alsace.

Our starters included Spanish jamón ibérico simply served with pickled piquillo peppers; an outstanding ravioli of langoustine with artichoke purée and shellfish coulis (that resembled a shellfish cappuccino more than a classic sauce); impeccably seared scallops on parmesan polenta with a light reduction of jus d’opulent roti; and wood pigeon roasted with a ragoût of spring onions, honey mushrooms and chestnuts, simply sauced with a reduction of the roasting juices.

One quick note about the wines we drank: one does not have to break the bank to drink reasonably well in Paris. Stick to the regional wines with A.O.C. certification and you can enjoy excellent wines for less than thirty Euros a bottle.

Craving more culinary travel stories? Check out Chef Ted’s guide to Rome

By Carly DeFilippo

In ICE’s Culinary Management program, students learn key aspects of the bar business, including how to prevent bar theft or how overly generous bartenders affect your bottom line. Yet many students have never actually worked behind the bar. Each year, the annual Calvados cocktail competition gives these enterprising students an opportunity to train in mixology and challenge their palates. Competing alongside New York’s top bartenders, students have the chance to test drinks from the best in the business. Better yet, the winner of the New York student contest is given the chance to compete in the brand’s international cocktail competition in France. We sat down with this year’s winner, Ilyse Fishman, to learn what inspired her culinary career path and what crafting cocktails first-hand has taught her about the business.

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What motivated your decision to enroll at ICE?

Before I enrolled at ICE, I was actually a corporate lawyer at a large Manhattan law firm. I’ve always been interested in food and restaurants and, whenever I could, I focused my papers in law school about food and restaurant legislation. I would take breaks by reading every food-related blog or book I could get my hands on. So after interning for a restaurateur in North Carolina (just nominated an Outstanding Restaurateur finalist by the James Beard Foundation!) while earning a Law and Entrepreneurship degree, I realized that I just might be able to make this passion a full time career. I began to work at Per Se, where I currently spend my time while not in class at ICE.

As far as why I chose ICE, the Culinary Management program was the best program offered in New York City for my particular interests and needs. After completing the program, I feel confident I will have the background I need in order to reach my culinary goal: opening a restaurant of my own in Washington, D.C. 

What were you hoping to learn by participating in the Calvados competition?

I’ve always appreciated the craftsmanship that goes into craft cocktails and thought that the Calvados competition could be a great chance to learn a few pointers in order to make better drinks myself. I figured that I had nothing to lose by submitting a recipe to the competition! For all of us who participated, ICE Instructor Anthony Caporale has been a fantastic mentor and did an excellent job preparing us for the competition. He ran two group sessions to help us buff up our technical skills and improve our presentations. He also took the time to answer all our questions and was there every step of the way through the competition.

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What was the inspiration for your drink?

Barney Stinson, the character played by Neil Patrick Harris on the television show How I Met Your Mother. Our instructions were to identify someone you think embodies the masculine or feminine ideal and then create a drink inspired by that person. I wanted to have fun with this project and thought that Barney could be a great example of a masculine ideal. At first impression, Barney appears to be a simple, one-dimensional guy who enjoys suits, cigars, laser tag, womanizing, magic and accepting challenges from his friends. As the show progresses, however, Barney reveals a bit more complexity and demonstrates that he has a softer side. The “Wait For It” similarly reveals its complexity the longer you sit with the drink and allow it to open up. Initially, you are likely to identify orange and floral notes from the orange twist and Grand Marnier. As the drink sits, however, the apple from the Calvados comes through. Then, the baking spices from the Carpano Antica, whiskey barrel bitters and clove garnish become apparent. This drink is ultimately a variation on a Manhattan, which felt appropriate as New York City plays a prominent role in How I Met Your Mother.

How was competing in France different than in New York? 

The competition in France literally took place on a much bigger stage, complete with two hosts who interviewed the participants, bright lights, several cameramen, a large audience and a photo shoot of our cocktails.Traveling to the competition with so many ingredients also created logistical challenges, but gave me the chance to improvise and improve with Anthony’s help. We also had a practical exam as part of the competition in France, which tested our knowledge about Calvados. Then there was the language barrier to account for, as many of the organizers and participants spoke exclusively French.

Additionally, I loved the tour of the Calvados distillery and all of the opportunities that we had to interact with Calvados producers and representatives. The ability to conduct a side-by-side taste comparison of a wide array of Calvados gave me a much better understanding of how age and terroir affect its flavor profile, and the opportunity to direct my questions toward the very people who produced that Calvados gave me unique insight into what each brand seeks to achieve.

More generally, I was surprised to learn that the European palate tends to prefer cocktails that are much sweeter than those to which we are accustomed. In the US, we use bitters and acidic fruit juices to create what we consider a more “balanced” flavor profile. In France, many of the winning cocktails in the competition were exceptionally sweet by our standards. So, ironically, while Americans may eat sweeter foods than our European counterparts, our cocktails are decidedly more bitter.

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Ilyse and Anthony Caporale with renowned New York bartender Pamela Wiznitzer.

What has this competition experience, in combination with your ICE education, taught you in regards to your future career?

There are so many wonderfully talented and passionate people in this industry to learn from. You never know who you will meet and what unique experience or perspective they will offer. As a future restaurant owner and operator, both ICE and the competition experience have also taught me the importance of being flexible, expecting the unexpected—and above all else, to have fun with it! Every challenge presented is a potential opportunity.

Wait For It…

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Calvados
  • 1/2 oz Carpano Antica
  • 1/4 oz Dolin Blanc
  • 1/4 Grand Marnier
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters
  • 1 orange twist
  • 1 orange twist studded with 3 Cloves
  • Ice

Instructions:

  1. Fill shaker 2/3 full with ice.
  2. Pour the Calvados, Carpano Antica, Dolin Blanc, Grand Marnier and Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters into the shaker.
  3. Stir.
  4. Strain into a rocks glass.
  5. Rim the glass with an orange twist.
  6. Garnish with a 3 clove studded orange twist.

 

By Virginia Monaco

 

Last week, ICE was honored to have a true living legend visit our school – Chef Alain Ducasse.  Along with his long time collaborator and Corporate Chef Sylvain Portay, Chef Ducasse came to debut and demonstrate his new app – My Culinary Encyclopedia : Recipes and Techniques by Alain Ducasse.

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Chef Alain Ducasse

Alain Ducasse was trained in some of the best European kitchens, notably Moulin de Mougins under legendary chef Roger Verge, where he learned Provençal cooking, now his trademark. The list of Chef Ducasse’s accomplishments during his career is long and groundbreaking.  He was the first chef ever to have three restaurants in three cities with three Michelin stars each at the same time. He is currently at the helm of 22 restaurants with a total of 17 Michelin stars.Culinary Education is key for this chef. In keeping with his values, he established Ducasse Education, the mission of which is to educate the next generation of top international culinary professionals with exceptional global standards, rigor, innovation, and creativity.

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Table setting for the event

Unlike many established chefs, Chef Ducasse has a rare ability to evolve and adapt, and his new app–both novel and groundbreaking–is a perfect example of this.  My Culinary Encyclopedia features 250 classic Ducasse recipes hand-picked by Chef Ducasse himself, along with interactive instructional videos, in-depth ingredient fact sheets and dozens of important base recipes.  It brings his classic Culinary Encyclopedia book into the 21st century.

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Chef Sylvain Portay plating the Half-Salted Cod “a la Meuniere” with Country Puree of Haricot Beans

ICE was the perfect fit for Chef Ducasse to premiere his impressive app, as we are the first culinary school in the country to fully integrate iPads into our professional kitchens.  Many in the audience had the app open on their iPads and were able to follow along as Chef Portay demonstrated two recipes from the app, with Chef Ducasse tasting and adjusting every component that went onto the plate.  The audience watched as Chef Portay skillfully crafted two dishes based on the app’s interactive instructions.  A packed room full of students, alumni and press were lucky enough to enjoy a classic Shrimp Cocktail with a Horseradish Royale and Tangy Tomato Syrup followed by Half-Salted Cod “a la Meuniere” with Country Puree of Haricot Beans.

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Plated version of Shrimp Cocktail

The video instructions–which were broadcast on several large screens around the room–walked Chef Portay through every part of the recipe process from beginning to end. While the demo was performed by a professional chef in this instance, the app is designed for cooks of all experience levels, and is sure to produce a beautiful final product.

 

After the demo, an audience member asked Chef Ducasse about the role of technology in the kitchen. He replied that it is a very useful tool, but nothing will ever replace the importance of knowing your craft, a good stove and constant tasting. It is clear that Chef Ducasse walks a fine line between studying and revering classic dishes, while at the same time innovating and incorporating new ideas and techniques into his repertoire. In other words, he is a constantly evolving chef and culinary creator.

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From Left: ICE Chef Sabrina Sexton, Chef Sylvian Portay, ICE President Rick Smilow, Chef Alain Ducasse, and ICE Chef James Briscione

Chef Ducasse’s visit to ICE, along with his app, gave audience members a revealing look into the mind of a world-famous chef.  We were thrilled to host such a culinary legend on one of his rare public appearances.  As Chef Ducasse’s demonstration of his new app showed, the possibilities for the integration of technology in the kitchen are endless. ICE remains at the forefront of technological culinary advancements in its own kitchens, and is excited about what the future holds.  However, technology will never replace the classic dishes, years of skilled technique and passion that chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Sylvain Portay bring to their exquisite cuisine.

This month, in honor of the holidays, we’ve asked our Culinary Arts and Pastry & Baking Arts instructors to share their favorite festive recipes. We’ve already traveled to Australia with Chef Kathryn Gordon’s mince tartelettes and celebrated American nostalgia with Chef Scott McMillen’s snickerdoodles. Today, we head back abroad with Chef Ted Siegel‘s Alsatian tarte flambée.

Ted Siegel-4One of my favorite, recent memories of Christmas is from the Rhine river cruise my partner Cheryl and I took during the Christmas week of 2010. The cruise began at the Swiss city of Basel and slowly worked its way up the Rhine to Amsterdam. One of our stops was Colmar, a beautiful medieval city in the French region of Alsace, which is known for its savory tartes.

We came upon a “jewel box” of a Christmas market in the center of the old town, by the Dominican church at Place des Dominicaines. The scene was almost idyllic. A deep chill in the air, snow falling and icicles hanging from the old shingled, medieval buildings. The aromas in the air were intoxicating-  the sweet spices of mulled wine, the smoke of the woodburning fireplaces, and the smell of toasting tarte flambées oozing with melty, soft-ripened Muenster cheese, crème fraîche and crackling hunks of slab bacon. Needless to say, we stopped at the first stand to warm ourselves with spiced mulled wine made from Alsatian pinot noir and to sample what was – by far – the most profoundly decadent tarte flambée one could ever hope to eat. The flavor combination of the rich cheese and smoked bacon, the crisp texture and crunch of the baked dough left us breathless. To this day, we have not stopped talking about that moment. It was one of those rare experiences where time stands still and everything is absolutely perfect!

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Ingredients

For the Pâte à Pain Ordinaire:

  • 1/3 ounce fresh baker’s yeast
  • 2/3 envelope active dry yeast
  • 10 ounces lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 lb all-purpose flour, sifted
  • Dusting flour (as needed)
  • 1 tsp salt

For the Tarte:

  • 7 oz pâte à pain ordinaire
  • 1 oz canola oil
  • 4 oz cottage cheese
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz crème fraîche
  • 2 oz bacon, cut crosswise in 1/4″ strips
  • 4 oz onion, thinly sliced
  • salt, pepper (to taste)
  • 4 oz Alsatian Muenster cheese, sliced thinly and trimmed of the rind
    (Note: Muenster should be 1-4 months old and soft-ripened)

Instructions

For the Pâte à Pain Ordinaire:

  1. In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and add the sugar.
  2. Mound the flour on a work surface, and form a well in the center. Put the salt in the well. Little by little, incorporate the dissolved yeast and sugar into the flour, kneading with your fingers at first, and at the end with your hands, until you have a smooth paste (about 5 to 8 minutes of kneading all together).
  3. Form the dough into a ball. Place the dough into a bowl, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and rise in a warm place for about 1.5 hours.
  4. Lightly flour your hands, and knead the dough again to deflate it (1 to 2 minutes). Form the dough into a ball again. With a knife, cut 2 incisions about 1/2″ deep in the form of a cross into the top of the ball.
  5. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place for another hour or so.

For the Tarte:

  1. Divide the pâte à pain ordinaire into 4 equal parts, and roll the dough into 4 rounds, each 8″ in diameter. The circles of dough will be quite thin.
  2. Oil a pastry sheet, using very little of the oil. Place the dough on the baking sheet. Pinch up a very small edge around the circumference of each circle. Refrigerate.
  3. Place the cottage cheese in a food processor and process until smooth (about 30 seconds). Add the flour, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tbsp of oil and the crème fraîche. Process again until smooth (about 30 seconds more).
  4. In a skillet, sauté the bacon and onion in the remaining oil, until the onion is barely tender.
  5. Remove the dough circles from the refrigerator, and spread the cheese mixture over them, leaving a 1/2″ uncovered section between the mixture and the edges of the tart. Sprinkle the bacon and onions on top, followed by a layer of the Muenster cheese.
  6. Place the baking sheet, with the tarts in a 425°F oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the tarts are golden brown.

For over 10 years, friends of mine have owned a mill in rural France (in the western Loire Valley) that they converted to a luxury country inn. And every year, I lead groups of ICE alumni and other food aficionados to eat, drink and study cuisine in France with a diverse group of chefs, butchers, bakers and pastry chefs while we stay at Le Moulin Bregeon (The Mill).

Every year I add new culinary activities for participants to enjoy – so even if you’ve come before, each ICE Cuisine Course in France can be new. Le Moulin Bregeon has been butchering its own meats and freezing them to offer its guests organic, locally raised meats more economically. For example, some nights we ate “true” spring lamb, and there is nothing like it – fresh, young meat like that has amazing flavor, juiciness and tenderness.

After years of hearing stories by Mill owners Bernard Levenez and Chef Pascal Merillou “waxing poetic” about butchering a pig that they raised through the winter, we decided to add this activity to our classes this year. The animals are raised on a nearby farm and the Mill’s chefs know the farm owners and how the animals are treated.

This year, we worked directly with a retired butcher to fabricate an entire 6-month old, 125K pig. It happened to be raining that May afternoon, so we set up under an overhang from the barn and sampled things as we went: boudin noire, bits and pieces from the cooked head for the rillete. In charge of the process was a guest butcher, Claude, who worked with The Mill’s Chef Guy Izambard. Before he retired, Claude was a supermarket butcher whose customers followed him from one market to another.

Our dinner at The Mill that night, cooked by Chef Guy, included typical country-French (peasant) pork dishes:  neck chops sautéed in butter with salt and pepper, French style bbq sausages with herbs picked from The Mill’s organic gardens, potatoes cooked in pork fat, pate de tete with vinegar on whole wheat baguette, and pate en croute with cornichons and grainy mustard. Delicious! From a cultural experience – some of the American students were surprised that we were not being offered the typical tenderloin or pork roasts we see in the US. Instead, we ate the pork “treats” that are deemed the best to eat first by the people who worked so hard to fabricate the cuts of meat.

To enroll in the 2013 trip (departing NY on April 30th), please contact Chef Kathryn at ICE (kathrynlmg@yahoo.com). To learn more about The Mill, check out www.moulinbregeon.com and www.moulinbregeoncuisinecourses.com.

Ah, la France. Rolling hills, valleys of vineyards, row upon row of grapes in the French countryside. Nowhere else in the world does wine have such a reputation, and from nowhere else are wine names so cryptic and confusing.

Whether you’re sitting down at a fine New York City French bistro, hunting for a smooth merlot to accompany the veal roast you have marinating in the fridge, or glancing through stacks of Burgundys and Bordeauxs for a BYOB pick, selecting French wine is just downright difficult. That is, until Director of Wine and Beverage Studies at ICE, Richard Vayda, broke down the codes of a French wine label and educated us Wine Essentials Course 2 students on the background, history, and geography of French wine.

This past week, classic French music hummed upon entering the classroom. Cheese was plentiful and bottles awaited opening, and I was thrilled to see a new addition to our individual wine glass arrangement: an aperitif glass, garnished with an orange segment. Once class began, Vayda whet our palates with a pour of Lillet Blonde, a fortified, aromified wine, made in Bordeaux. It paired up perfectly with the orange segment and created a pleasant mood in which to absorb Vayda’s knowledgeable introduction to wine production in Burgundy and Bordeaux. More…

Last week, we brought you part one of ICE Chef Instructor Kathryn Gordon’s report from the ICE Alumni Cuisine Course in France. Now, here is part II:

Chef Guy’s Pate en Croute

On our trip, we stay at Le Moulin Brégeon in the Loire Valley. Working there with Chef Guy Izambard is always a riot. Although classes are generally translated into English, he manages to communicate almost entirely through his infectious smile and enthusiasm. We skinned and filleted live eels after preparing Pâté en Croute, Country-Style Duck Rillettes, Boudin Blanc and Plum Tart. After all that, we did cook up a dish of swiss chard from the Mill’s gardens to counterbalance. At the end of the week, we have a market basket cook-off in the Mill’s kitchens. Twice before this has been wild boar, but you never know what will be available. More…

Every year a group of ICE alumni travel to France to participate in the ICE Alumni Cuisine Course. Led by ICE Chef Instructor Kathryn Gordon, the intensive course is a unique, alumni-only trip that includes hands-on classes with a variety of chefs and visits to restaurants, farms and bakeries. The activities include visiting famous fleur de sel marshes, shopping in traditional markets and seeing organic chevre farms. Here is part one of Chef Kathryn’s report from France:

While every ICE Alumni Cuisine Course is memorable, there were several new and exciting activities on this year’s trip. Never before had we visited a foie gras farm or sat down to an in-depth tasting of Loire wines. Each session was more informative than the last.

For example, in our hands-on cooking class with Chef Eric Bichon of L’Orée des Bois we practiced our knife skills. But it wasn’t all tournéeing mushrooms (move over, Chef Ted!). We were able to use state-of-the-art equipment including paco jets, combi ovens, sous-vide equipment and blast freezers. We cooked three different courses before a Q&A session with Chef Eric during lunch. The memorable meal included Seared Foie Gras with Mango and Sweet Potato Emulsion, Potato-Wrapped Lamb with Summer Vegetables and Tomato Confit, and Coconut Crème Brûlée with Exotic Sorbet and Four-Spice Syrup.

More…